Grade Levels: K-3

This page contains information to support educators and families in teaching K-3 students about Arctic habitats.  The information is designed to complement the BrainPOP Jr. movie Arctic Habitats. It explains the type of content covered in the movie, provides ideas for how teachers and parents can develop related understandings, and suggests how other BrainPOP Jr. resources can be used to scaffold and extend student learning.

The Arctic is an exciting and foreign place to most children, and studying this unique biome helps them understand the world around them. In this movie, children will learn that the Arctic is the area around the North Pole. It includes the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Greenland, Russia, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. It also includes part of the United States—Alaska. Conditions in the Arctic can be cold and windy and temperatures can get extremely low in this habitat, so plants and animals have different adaptations to survive in this environment. The movie reviews how Earth’s tilt and its orbit around the Sun cause seasons to change. We recommend screening the Seasons and Winter movies to explore this concept more closely. The movie also discusses different native people from the Arctic, including the Inuit and Sámi, and explores how the Arctic is changing because of global climate change and human activity.

In addition to a map, we recommend using a globe to show your children the Arctic’s location on the Earth. Many children believe the Arctic is a barren, snowy place, much like Antarctica, but the Arctic is different because it has mountains, forests, prairies, lakes, and rivers. The Arctic also has many icebergs and glaciers—enormous bodies of ice that move very slowly, and which also can double in size during the winter. Help your children understand that the Arctic gets very, very cold and temperatures can go far below freezing. We recommend comparing the temperature on the coldest winter day in your community with the temperature of a typical Arctic winter day, −40 °C (−40 °F).

Review with your children that it takes one year for Earth to orbit the Sun. Earth is tilted at an angle. Our planet’s tilt and path around the Sun causes seasons to change. During the winter, the Arctic is tilted away from the Sun. As a result, parts of the area get very few hours of sunlight during the winter. In some parts of northern Norway, there is little to no sunlight during the winter, while northern Sweden only receives four to six hours of sunlight per day. During the summer, the Arctic is tilted toward the Sun: Parts of the Arctic receive many hours of sunlight and in some places it does not get fully dark for most of June or July, due to the ever-present “Midnight Sun”. Have your children imagine what winter and summer might be like in the Arctic.

Living things in the Arctic have special adaptations to survive in their habitats. During the colder months, seeds lay dormant underground and do not grow roots into the frozen soil. During the spring and summer they germinate and grow quickly before the weather becomes cold again. Many plants grow low to the ground and grow in large clumps to protect themselves from fierce Arctic winds. Some plants are covered in thick fur or leathery skin to prevent freezing, and most have small leaves to prevent water evaporation and conserve energy. Some Arctic plants have shallow root systems because their roots cannot penetrate the permafrost, a layer of soil that remains permanently frozen underground. The thin active layer of soil makes shallow root systems necessary, so trees do not grow in the northern Arctic.

Animals have a wide variety of adaptations to survive in the Arctic. Some animals, such as musk oxen, grow thick fur for the winter and often huddle together to fend off the cold. Sea mammals including whales, seals, and walruses, grow thick layers of blubber to stay warm in the Arctic waters. Very few animals hibernate in the Arctic. Ground squirrels hibernate through the winter and wake up when the weather warms up and food is more readily available. Many Arctic animals migrate to warmer places to find food and breeding grounds. Caribou migrate to the forests of the southern Arctic, where the trees protect them from the wind, snow, and predators. In the spring the caribou leave the forests and return to the tundra where their calves are born. Arctic foxes and Arctic hares often grow thick white winter coats that not only help them stay warm, but also hide them from predators and prey. Many children are familiar with polar bears, the world’s largest land carnivore. Polar bears are fierce hunters who hunt for sea mammals such as seals and young whales. However, hunting in the Arctic winter can be extremely difficult, so polar bears can go for long periods of time without eating. They are also scavengers and eat nearly anything that they find. In this extreme habitat, plants and animals must find different ways to survive.

There are many groups of native people who live in the Arctic. The Inuit are communities of people indigenous to the United States (Alaska), Greenland, and Canada. They have lived in the Arctic for approximately 1,000 years. Historically, they subsisted on fishing and hunting. The Sámi are communities of native people indigenous to the Arctic parts of northern Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Russia. For hundreds of years, the Sámi have herded reindeer and fished to survive in their environment.

Your children should understand that the Arctic is changing. Human activity, such as the release of greenhouse gases, pollution, and deforestation, has caused the average temperature of Earth to increase, and the Arctic region is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Global climate change is causing glaciers, icebergs, and sea ice in the Arctic to melt, which then causes habitats to change. Melting ice can change temperatures in the ocean, which can affect ocean life—not just in the Arctic but also around the planet. Rising sea levels can cause destruction of land habitats and coastal flooding. Some children may want to check out BrainPOP’s movies in the Our Fragile Environment unit for extension.

Help your children learn about the world around them and how life can exist in practically every part of our planet. Learning about the Arctic is a great way for children to explore how plants and animals can adapt to extreme conditions and understand how human actions can cause problems in seemingly remote areas of Earth.

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